Papers of Ian Isherwood

  • Reference
      GB 133 ISH
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      3 li. m.  515 items
  • Location
      Collection available at the University Archive and Records Centre, main University Library.

Scope and Content

The Papers of Ian Isherwood document the major aspects of his career as a neuroradiologist and, in particular, his crucial role in pioneering the use of Computed Tomography (CT) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Imaging, later referred to as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), at Manchester.

As well as material relating to Ian Isherwood's medical education and early career in radiology and neuroradiology, the papers also include significant correspondence and other material relating to CT and MRI at Manchester. This material includes papers relating to individual scanners, along with subsequent upgrades and replacements, thus documenting the evolution of the technologies over time. There is also material here relating to the establishment of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology in the Medical School at the University of Manchester in 1975 and the appointment of Ian Isherwood to the first chair of Diagnostic Radiology at the University. In addition, the papers document Isherwood's role as a prolific public speaker and lecturer as well as the many offices held by him and honours awarded to him throughout his distinguished career.

The papers also include a significant amount of material relating to the history of radiology both in Manchester and beyond, as well as the history of medicine in general both in Manchester and beyond, and the history of other related scientific fields. These papers, collected together by Ian Isherwood himself, reflect his keen personal interest in the history and heritage of his own specialism and the fields of medicine and science generally.

Also listed here, as part of the Papers of Ian Isherwood, are records of the Manchester and District Radiographic Society and the Manchester School of Radiography which stemmed from it. The records of these two bodies are of great importance to the study of the history of radiography and its development as an important area of work in its own right as well as the history of the training of radiographers in Manchester. The records were entrusted to Ian Isherwood for safe keeping in his capacity as professor of diagnostic radiology at the University of Manchester after the School of Radiography ceased to be in 1977 (the Radiographic Society had ceased to exist in 1946). There is also a small body of papers relating to the Manchester Medical Society, with which Professor Isherwood was associated almost for the entirety of his profesional life, and the Twenty five Club, a social and dining group for radiologists, in which he played an active role.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ian Isherwood was Professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Manchester. Isherwood was born in Batley, Yorkshire in 1931. At the age of six years he moved to Lancashire where he was to remain for the majority of his life, apart from periods spent in Derby, Norway and Sweden. He attended grammar school at Eccles in Lancashire. It was here that he met fellow student Jean Pennington who was later to become his wife.

Isherwood entered the University of Manchester to study medicine in 1948, beginning what was to be a long and close attachment to the University. In 1954 he graduated M.B., Ch.B. (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, respectively). While a student at the University he served as President of the Medical Students' Representative Council in 1953. In the same year he married his wife, Jean. They were to have three children, Jennifer, Judith and Christopher.

After qualifying he held junior clinical posts at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, including Trainee Registrar. He soon chose to specialise in diagnostic radiology. The Medical School at Manchester was at that time known for its luminaries in the neurological sciences and it was through such influences that Isherwood became drawn, more specifically, to the sub-specialism of neuroradiology. He made rapid progress in his chosen field and was appointed Consultant Radiologist at Derby in 1961, where his role was to set up a neuroradiology unit in support of the clinical work of the neurologist and the neurosurgeons there. He ran this service, for the most part, single-handedly.

The allure of Manchester, however, remained strong and, two years later, Isherwood returned to the Manchester Royal Infirmary as Consultant Neuroradiologist and Deputy Director of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology. The opportunity of working alongside clinicians who had been influential in his choice of neuroradiology as a specialist career was most welcome and his radiologist colleagues included Dr Reginald Reid at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and Dr Eric Duff Gray, director of the Infirmary's X-ray Department.

In 1975 Isherwood was appointed to the newly-established chair of Diagnostic Radiology in the University of Manchester, a position which he held until his retirement in 1993. Through his vision, drive and energy he helped to establish diagnostic radiology as an important speciality in academic medicine nationally and regionally. At the same time he transformed radiology training in Manchester; the Rotational Training Scheme there became the largest and one of the most prestigious training schemes in the country.

In 1972 Isherwood made a momentous visit to Dr James Ambrose at the Atkinson Morley Hospital in London to discuss myleographic equipment. During the visit, the purpose of which had been to discuss more routine radiological matters, Dr Ambrose invited Isherwood into a room to see some new prototype equipment which was being developed by Godfrey Hounsfield, an electrical engineer employed by EMI Medical Limited (based in Middlesex). The equipment was a prototype Computed Axial Tomography scanner, later known as Computed Tomography or CT. CT scanning used a new computerised system for scanning slices of the brain where an X-ray beam and detectors first scanned across a patient's head taking readings and then rotated around the head repeating the procedure. Thousands of readings were then converted to digital signals and processed by computer, finally being displayed by Polaroid film or numerical print-out. Although these early images were crude, important areas of the brain could be discerned. Isherwood saw enough to realise that this new form of non-invasive radiography could radically and dramatically transform imaging and put an end to the need for the dangerous invasive imaging techniques hitherto employed by radiologists.

Isherwood was so excited by the potential of this new technique that he wrote immediately to the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) offering Manchester as a site to perform clinical trials on the new technology. This offer was happily accepted by the DHSS. Accommodation for the scanner was built within three months and in 1972 the first commercial CT head scanner in the world, the CT 1000, was installed in the Department of Neuroradiology of Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The introduction of CT imaging of the brain transformed the practice of neuroradiology forever. As technology advanced, general purpose or whole body scanners were developed. Under Isherwood's direction, the first commercial whole body scanner in Europe, the CT 5000, was installed in the University Department of Diagnostic Radiology in 1975.

It was with similar foresight and vision that Isherwood quickly recognised the huge impact that Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMR), later termed Magnetic Resonance (MRI), would have on the diagnosis and management of disease. The new technique did not involve the use of X-Rays (nor any other type of "ionizing" radiation). Instead, it involved the application of a magnetic field which caused the hydrogen atoms in molecules of water in the body to align with the field. An additional high frequency field was then applied to disturb this process and, when the radio frequency was switched off, the water nuclei reverted to their normal position and distribution, emitting a signal in the process. These minute resonance signals occurred in a pattern that a computer could use to create images. In 1983 the first cryogenic superconducting MRI scanner in Europe, the Picker 0.26 Tesla, was installed in the University department.

The introduction of this new imaging technology allowed Isherwood and his team to conduct extensive research into the technical aspects and clinical applications of CT and MRI, as well as enabling the provision of a cutting-edge modern diagnostic service to patients in the North West region and beyond. Over a period of eighteen years the Royal Infirmary department acquired three CT scanners and two MRI scanners which allowed it to remain at the forefront of imaging research. This was testament to Professor Isherwood's persuasiveness and success in acquiring the necessary funding.

Isherwood encouraged multidisciplinary research into the development and application of new imaging techniques in many important areas of technical and clinical research. He is the author of over 250 scientific publications, many of which were at the forefront of the rapidly advancing field of imaging, including one of the first published reports on the application of CT to the quantitative measurement of bone mass, which appeared in the Lancet in 1976.

Professor Isherwood's interests outside clinical radiology were many. Notably, in 1975 he began working with group of Egyptologists at the Manchester Museum and pioneered, in particular, the use of CT radiological techniques in Egyptology.

From 1969 to 1989, Isherwood served as chairman of the Manchester School of Radiography. The School had been established in 1939 with Doctors Hartley and Gray as its first Chairmen. When the Manchester Regional Radiographers' Training Scheme was set up at the Salford College of Technology in 1972, the old School wound up its affairs. Isherwood used the remaining funds to establish the Gray-Hartley Memorial Lecture and the records of the School were entrusted to him for safe-keeping.

Isherwood's manifold achievements in the field brought him to the attention of his radiology colleagues in Britain, Europe and throughout the world and won him their accolades. He was much in demand by learned societies and professional bodies, serving as an examiner and as a member of the Boards and Council of the Royal College of Radiologists and President of the British Institute of Radiology (1984-85), the Radiological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine (1992-93), the European Association of Radiology (1989-91), the British Society of Neuroradiology, the Radiology History and Heritage Charitable Trust, and the Manchester Medical Society (1985-86).

Professor Isherwood served on numerous other regional, national and international committees and bodies including the International Commission on Radiological Units (ICRU) of which he was Commissioner, and the European College of Radiological Education, of which he was Dean. He was Radiological Advisor to the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health.

His many achievements gained him many prestigious honours and awards within the UK Radiological Community. His scientific achievements were recognised by the award to him of the Barclay Prize of the British Institute of Radiology in 1991. He was also the recipient of the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Radiologists in 1995, and of the Jephcott Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Isherwood was also honoured by many international societies, including the American Society of Neuroradiology and the Radiological Society of North America, both of which granted him honorary membership. Furthermore, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Radiologists of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, was awarded an honorary doctorate in Medicine by the University of Zaragoza, an honorary doctorate of science by the University of Aberdeen, and was made a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.

He was also a much sought-after lecturer and speaker, delivering innumerable lectures and talks during his career, both at home and abroad.

Isherwood retired from the Chair of Diagnostic Radiology at Manchester University in 1993 but remains Emeritus Professor of Diagnostic Radiology. During his retirement he continued with his interests in the history of radiology and medicine. From 1993-95 he served as President of the organising committee for the Röntgen Centenary Congress, to mark the one hundredth anniversary of Röntgen's discovery of X-rays, held in Birmingham in 1995. The event attracted 3,500 delegates and was universally hailed as a huge success. In 1993 he became Dean of the newly formed European College of Radiological Education. He was awarded the CBE for Services to Radiology in 1996.

Ian Isherwood was a tireless ambassador for radiology in general and, in particular, British radiology around the world. His contribution to knowledge and advances in the discipline, as well as his service to the development, teaching and practice of radiology, are immense. He succeeded in placing Manchester, and Britain, firmly on the radiological map.


Most of the material had been arranged by Ian Isherwood into files under broad headings. These general headings have been retained but a system of arrangement has been imposed on the material within these headings, to facilitate better access.

The papers consist of the following sub-groups:

  • ISH/1 Career and Personal Material
  • ISH/2 Material relating to Ian Isherwood's involvement with CT at Manchester
  • ISH/3 Material relating to Ian Isherwood's involvement with NMR/ MRI at Manchester
  • ISH/4 Historical Material
  • ISH/5 Records of the Manchester District and Radiographic Society
  • ISH/6 Records of the Manchester School of Radiography
  • ISH/7 Manchester Medical Society documents
  • ISH/8 The 25 Club documents

Each sub-group is then divided into a number of further sub-sections or series. Material is arranged chronologically unless otherwise stated.

Access Information

Most of the collection is open to any accredited reader, although some items are currently closed.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under the Act 2018 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

Given to JRUL by Ian Isherwood in October 2004, with additional deposits made in November and December 2005, January 2006 and September 2006. A further accrual of papers was made following Professor Isherwood's death in 2018.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

The collection contains a small number of X-ray images on X-ray film. It is possible to view these without the use of a light-box or similar aid.

Archivist's Note

The archive was originally catalogued as part of a Wellcome Trust-funded Research Resources in Medical History project, 2005-2007. An additional accrual was catalogued in 2019-20.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Appraisal Information

Duplicate material has been removed from the collection where necessary.

Custodial History

The papers were in Professor Isherwood's own custody before being donated to the JRUL.


None expected.

Related Material

The Manchester Medical Collection has material on Manchester-related radiologists including Ian Isherwood in its publications series (MMC/1) and biographical files (MMC/2).


Isherwood, I. ,"Diagnostic Radiology", International Journal of Radiation Biology, vol. 51, no. 5, (1987). Peh, W. 101 Years of a New Kind of Rays, (Singapore, 1996). Thomas, A.(ed.), with Isherwood, I. and Wells, P.N.T, The Invisible Light, 100 Years of Medical Radiology, (Oxford, 1995). England, I.A.,"Northern Lights: Manchester's Outstanding Contribution"Radiography (June 1979). Meredith, W.J., "The Manchester School of Radiography" Radiography, vol. XLV. no. 536 .

Geographical Names